The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. It also houses the largest rare book collection in North America, and is the largest library in the world.
The Library of Congress was created on April 24, 1800 by President John Adams when he approved legislation that appropriated $5,000 to purchase “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress.” The original collection consisted of 740 volumes and three maps.
Thomas Jefferson played an important role in the Library’s early formation, signing into law on January 26, 1802, the first law establishing the presidentially appointed post of Librarian of Congress and a Joint Committee on the Library to regulate and oversee the Library, as well as giving the president and vice president the ability to borrow books.
The Library of Congress was destroyed in August 1814, when invading British troops set fire to the Capitol building and the small library of 3,000 volumes within. Former President Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement. He had spent 50 years accumulating a wide variety of books in philosophy, science, literature, foreign languages, and other topics such as cookbooks. In January 1815, Congress accepted Jefferson’s offer, appropriating $23,950 for his 6,487 books.
Today, a complex of four buildings in Washington, D.C. comprise the Library of Congress. Over 151 million items in over 470 languages are housed there. In addition to books and manuscripts, the Library of Congress contains the world’s largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings.
The Library of Congress receives some 22,000 items each working day and adds approximately 10,000 items to the collections daily. The majority of the collections are received through the copyright registration process.
The Library of Congress is open to the general public for academic research and tourists. If you’re ever in Washington, be sure to visit this world-famous library! The Library of Congress offers a wide variety of free online resources too:
http://www.loc.gov/about/facts.html – Fascinating Facts About the Library of Congress.
http://www.loc.gov/about/more/ – Watch this multimedia presentation and discover how the Library of Congress is “more than a library.”
MyLOC – Explore the Library of Congress, collect your favorite treasures, turn the pages of rare manuscripts, interact with priceless artifacts, tour the magnificent Thomas Jefferson Building, play a “Knowledge Quest,” complete online student activities, and view educational lesson plans.
Teaching with the Library of Congress – Materials and resources to help teachers effectively use primary sources from the Library of Congress’ vast digital collections.
Spotlight on Kids and Families – A guide to the many fascinating and useful resources available from the Library of Congress website, for learning about everything from American history to everyday mysteries.
America’s Story from America’s Library – Elementary and middle school students can explore America’s Story using primary sources from the Library of Congress. Discover U.S. history, meet amazing Americans, explore the states, and more.
Historic American Newspapers – Search America’s historic newspapers from 1836-1922, or read the headlines from 100 years ago today, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Library of Congress Digital Collections – Access to print, pictorial, audio-visual collections, web archives, and other digital services from the Library of Congress.